Announcement of the ISO Renewal Faction

The international revolutionary Left is in the throes of a serious crisis.  This crisis has manifested itself most clearly in organizational terms in the debacle of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK; in the splits in the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France; and in the attack on the revolutionary Left within SYRIZA.  In practical terms, it has manifested in the inability of the Left to steer major events: the stalemate in the struggle against austerity in Greece and the growth of fascism; the twists and turns of the Egyptian revolution; and the reversals suffered by the defeat of the Wisconsin Uprising, the dramatic repression of Occupy, and even the setbacks in spring 2013 after the heroic Chicago Teachers’ Union strike testify to this fact.  And on the theoretical plane, there remain large questions about the character of neoliberalism and the current crisis; the shape of the international working class at the end of the neoliberal period; and the strategies and methods for the Left to organize a real struggle against a system in crisis.  It is a crisis that requires a deep re-examination of all previous assumptions on the part of the entire international Left.

We believe this crisis has impacted the ISO as well, though we think that it is a more significant development than simply “the demoralization and disorientation experienced by the Left in the wake of Occupy”.  While the SWP’s crisis is far more serious than ours, we believe both crises (as well as the others mentioned) grow out of the same general political background common to the entire revolutionary Left.  In the ISO, the response to this crisis has shifted from a perceived new political openness in the first half of the year (most notably Ahmed Shawki’s talk at Socialism 2013 on Perspectives for the Left, which was interpreted as such by people well beyond the ISO); to a debate around the March on Washington and the United Front; to a closing of ranks, a renewed focus on routines and low-level political education, and a retreat from outward-looking events such as the regional fall Marxism conferences.  The assertion in the NC report that the ISO was “under attack” was quite stunning to us.  But it has now become clear that the “attack” is really a bout of self-doubt, in our estimation brought on by the same factors that have precipitated the crisis of the international Left: a misunderstanding of the neoliberal period and its crisis, and a frustration at the ability of the Left to advance.

The ISO must confront this crisis head-on and have an open, frank and thorough discussion of all the questions confronting the revolutionary Left today.  To this end, the comrades signed on to this document have decided to form the ISO Renewal Faction within the ISO.  We remain committed as ever to the core politics and overall political project of the ISO; however our political and organizational perspectives differ from that which is being put forward by the national leadership of the organization. We believe that forming a faction is necessary for a full and democratic debate about the two perspectives.  As Lenin noted, sharp debates are most productive when given definite organizational form; thus the utility and necessity of a faction when such debates arise.

We believe that vigorous debate both internally and with the revolutionary Left broadly will strengthen our organization and, as such, we intend to publish our platform and our documents both through the Pre-Convention Bulletin as well as publicly through Socialist Worker and on this blog. We will also respect the current practice in the ISO which restricts sharing Pre-Convention Documents with the public, and thus will not include direct quotes from or references to those documents directly on the faction website; those documents will be published in full only through the internal channels.

The platform of the ISO Renewal Faction includes the documents: 1) The organizational crisis and its political roots; 2) The role of perspectives; 3) Organizational perspectives.  The operations of the faction are outlined in the Faction Rules. A current list of faction members and the Faction Committee appears in Membership.

Correspondence, including applications to join the faction, may be directed to isorenewalfaction [at] gmail [dot] com.

We believe that by forming a faction to promote our views, we have taken a necessary step in the political resolution of the profound and difficult challenges facing the ISO today.  We look forward to a vigorous and comradely debate with high hopes for a productive resolution.

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The organizational crisis and its political roots

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has been in a general crisis since 2009. This has not been experienced or understood as a general crisis, but rather a series of disconnected and personalistic branch crises. But if we merely list the crises that we know about, the general nature of the problem becomes clear:

  • In 2009-11, political disagreements in the Bay Area result in the departure of six longstanding cadre; the Steering Committee is directly involved.
  • From 2009-11, a series of disagreements in the Chicago district–many of which were never raised to a political level–results in the departure of seven longstanding cadre (the Socialist Outpost group); members of the Steering Committee are directly involved, in particular the National Secretary.
  • In 2010, a modest document on recruiting and retaining members of color draws a furious reply from the New York City District Committee, throwing the district into crisis; the Steering Committee is involved, encouraging the DC to issue a “hard” reply. The repercussions of this reemerge in 2013, when a (correct) attempt to apologize for the reply reopens unresolved political problems.
  • In 2010, an expulsion in Washington DC leads to the resignation of eight other members–most (if not all) of the branch’s members of color. The expulsion is very possibly justified, but handled so badly that major damage is done to the branch; the Steering Committee is directly involved.
  • In 2010, differences in Boston over the possibilities for building a branch in Cambridge culminate in the resignation under duress of a leading cadre member and the subsequent loss of several members and contacts; the Steering Committee is involved via the Northeast Regional Organizer, who acts (by his own account) as its representative.
  • In 2013, Shaun J is publicly slandered by the Boston leadership, leading to his resignation; “coincidentally” he is the leading critic of the local and national political perspectives. Although the Steering Committee is not involved in that attack, they panic when Shaun rejoins the group, condemning his branch leadership as “provocateurs” and threatening their expulsion.

Even in branches where we cannot identify any particular cataclysm, we observe serious organizational problems:

  • The Los Angeles branch is extremely passive; while individual members may be quite active, the branch as a collective takes virtually no role in directing comrades’ activity. Our teacher comrades, for instance, operate as a fully-independent detachment.
  • The Seattle branch is, similarly, less a branch and more a series of related clubs. Furthermore, the sectarianism of the local (and national) leadership toward Socialist Alternative meant that the branch was a severe latecomer to the Sawant campaign.
  • Most of the Texas branches have shrunk significantly or collapsed. In Austin, the oldest Texas branch with the most cadre, about a dozen members have been lost in the last few months.

Taken altogether, it is likely that the majority of ISO members have experienced some form of organizational crisis, at least among those who have been members more than three years.

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The role of perspectives (Unredacted)

[Unredacted as of 12 February 2014; see our revised publication policy.]

The recent debates in and around the ISO have brought to light a core question: What is the role of perspectives and how should such perspectives be set?

What has become clear to us is a tendency in the ISO wherein our perspectives focus on “next steps” and “immediate opportunities” and emphasize the possibilities inherent in every political moment while downplaying the real challenges. The goal seems to be to keep the membership activated and (ultimately) trained, so that when the big struggles break out, comrades will be tested and steeled and able to act decisively.

The ISO’s perspectives, then, are structurally biased against having an accurate reading of the world and a strategy that flows from that. Rather, the perspectives are set so as to see within the world only the possibilities, successes and positives and keeping the membership focused on activity—even if that activity does not have clear political goals in the long-term.

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In defense of our comrades

The ISO Renewal Faction affirms that Shaun J (Cambridge, MA) and Vanessa B (Washington, DC) are members in good standing of the ISO, with all the rights and responsibilities thereof. They have been excluded from membership, in violation of our Rules and established practice, by the Steering Committee. We reject these bureaucratic maneuvers and call on all members to recognize and defend the status of our comrades. We appeal to Convention to clarify the situation by reaffirming that Shaun and Vanessa are members in good standing.

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